Thorpe Park – My Triathlon Debut

The Day before…

It’s Saturday 8th June and I’ve just realised that in order to get my road bike into the Zafira, as well as the two kids, the front wheel is going to have to come off. No biggie – I can see the quick release lever, and with a quick tug to release the wheel from the front brake, it comes off no problem and my trusty steed in thrown into the back of the car.

My bags (plural) are packed with (almost) everything the checklist I downloaded says I should have, and I’m satisfied that the equipment will see me through my first triathlon.

To save Laura and the kids an even earlier wake up time than is necessary, I booked a hotel close to the event the same day I bought the race ticket. Of course when we arrive, despite being an hour after check in, the room is not ready so we are asked to wait. Then the key doesn’t work and finally we find out we have to pay to use their car park?!?! But what do you want for £56, I suppose…

Once we’re finally into the room, I lay out all of my gear. This obviously takes a bit longer than before a marathon, and helps keep the nerves at bay. It’s a calming ritual. My subconscious is getting the message, “All the gear is here, you’ve just got to go and do what you’ve done in training…but MUCH faster!”

Superhero time!

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that while sons and daughters don their various superhero outfits and disguises, there’s still a desire in at least some of their parents to do the same. Dress up and perform some amazing feat of speed, strength or in my case, stamina. That void doesn’t come close to being filled by heaving on a suit and tie, and ticking boxes “for the man” man. I actually enjoy my work, but it doesn’t scratch THIS itch!

As I set my stuff out, somewhere in the back of my mind there’s a Hans Zimmer-esque tune playing. Yes, I’ve not even completed a triathlon yet, but this gear secretly (not so secret now I’m writing about it) is the equivalent of my bat suit, utility belt, etc.

“It’s superhero time. Mission starts soon. Training is done. All of your gear is here…” WAIT, of course, all of my gear is NOT here. My bike is still sitting in the car, dismembered, so I go to retrieve it just to make sure I can put the wheel back on with the minimum of hassle.

The wheel goes on without a single expletive from me, and after wedging the bike into the hotel lift, it is soon located, whole, in the hotel room – next to the bat suit, etc.

Race day

As the hotel is located just a mile away from the event I decide to cycle there. I think, this will wake my legs up whilst giving the family an extra hour or so in bed before coming to cheer me on.

As I’m wheeling the bike out I notice a repetitive noise coming from, where else, the front wheel. The brakes appear to be rubbing a bit on the wheel but I can’t see where. I lift the bike and try to spin the wheel, but it quickly comes to a stop. A little bit of maneuvering the break pads seems to fix the problem, so then I begin my ride in.

The next thing I notice are the tyres are a bit spongy. I have a hand pump, and I’m sure someone will have a proper pump at the event, so again I’m not concerned about this.

Registration is so straight forward, and the only tips I pick up are 1) the second number bib is a spare if you have a race belt 2) the timing chip goes on your left ankle to stay away from the gear mechanism, etc.

Even racking up my bike and setting my gear out is a doddle – there is no chance of losing my bike or getting lost in the transitions. I borrow a pump for my tyres at the last minute, get on my wet suit and I’m good to go.

SWIM

The water is said to be 18 degrees, and as soon as I’m in the water for a little acclimatisation, I know I’m fine. I’ve spat in my goggles and this seems to be working i.e. no steam. The buoys are HUGE so sighting is no problem. I don’t know if the earplugs are working or not, but I’m not feeling sick or panicky, so let’s just say they are.

There is no way I would feel this calm, had it not been for a second session with Mark from Tri ‘N’ Swim Well at Hadleigh Country Park earlier this week. This made up for my first open water swimming experience…but I still have a lot to learn here. If I come in to some money, I will invest in some lessons…for now, I will see how far I can get with YouTube.

The horn goes off and initially my front crawl seems to be going well. The mosh pit I had feared is not happening, I have space, but every time my face goes under, my nostrils are filling up with water – even when I’m exhaling from them?!? Mental note: buy a nose peg.

I end up doing a mixture of “head above water front crawl” and breast stroke.

At the exit, further down the bank, I tread in sludge which gives way and brings me to my knees on a sharp rock. I stumble out, a bit dizzy, but recover enough to start running towards the transition area with a smile on my face.

17 mins 41 secs for 750 m. I think that’s respectable?

Feet like flippers…I’ve evolved for this…and yet I’m still quite slow atm!

cycle

I can feel that something is not right. I tell myself it must be the swim, maybe the water I’ve swallowed…and no AJ – seriously, I’m not 100% getting on the bike. It just feels like bloody hard work.

I tell myself that it will wear off. Same as a bike to run transition. I have never done a swim to bike brick session before – that must be what it is.

But a mile in, when I expect to have got my bearings, my rhythm, to have outrun my excuses…I still feel like I’m cycling through treacle. It has to be the bike. I look down. No punctures.

If I’d known what was to come, I might have quit at this point!

At no point do I consider getting off the bike to mess about with the wheels or brakes, which looking back, would have been the right move. Even doing away with the front brake and relying on just the back one would have been better than doing what I did. Carry on.

I’m really concerned, it being my first triathlon, about drafting and overtaking. I don’t want to break these rules (or at least get penalised for doing so), but as it turns out I never have the opportunity to overtake anyone, and no one is ever in front of me long enough for me to be accused of drafting!

This is the worst part of the race for me, and I have to shake off some pretty negative self-talk as cyclist after cyclist whizzes past me. Laura tells me after the race that she actually thought something had happened to me it takes me so long!

1 hr 8 mins for 21 km…it pains me to type that. Even as a newbie.

run

Of course there is no question that this is going to be the strongest part of my race. I have just spent the last 1 hour 8 mins being overtaken by everyone and their nan, so I enjoy catching up and overtaking these cyclists on the run.

I am a bit concerned at one point about my breathing, as my lung capacity seems to have reduced. I feel quite a bit of pressure in my chest, which I put down to swallowing some water in the lake – the bike doesn’t really tax my breathing, just my legs – so that’s why it’s taken me so long to be affected by it.

After the race I google “dry drowning” and worry myself silly for a bit. If I can’t sleep later, and it doesn’t feel any better, I’m off to the hospital…but I have felt worse. I’m sure it’s fine.

I really enjoy running through Thorpe Park…it makes me wonder about Disneyland races, or other theme parks. One to add to the “someday, maybe” list.

After completing the run I meet up with some friends who were also racing, and go over some of the issues we’ve had during the race. At no point do they warn me that I still have my earplugs in from the swim! I find this out as I’m packing up my stuff in the transition area!

At least I wasn’t running with my helmet on I guess…that WOULD have been embarrassing!

20 mins 17 secs for 5 km.

Strong finish on the 5 km run.
I knew the bike wasn’t going well, and even at MAF pace in training I have done better, so I’m not worried. I’ll put this right next week.

So I have been bitten by a bug. A bug with 3 legs – or 5 if you include transitions!

next actions

I need to buy a nose peg. I need to get my bike set up properly, and I need a bike rack so I don’t have to keep taking my wheel off! I suppose I also need to learn how to remove and replace the wheels, front and back, if I ever get a puncture!

I have less than a week until Windsor and the distances are doubled for each discipline, so I’ll need to pace myself better and fuel on the ride. My goals for next week, other than completing the race, are:

  1. Use mostly front crawl, not breast stroke for the swim
  2. Have a much better bike ride – 40km in 1 hour 30 mins
  3. Complete the race in around 3 hours (this would be a massive bonus after today’s performance, but achieving the first two will get me closer to this)

A couple of other things to note:

  • I messed up with my watch, so I really need to practice with that this week
  • I didn’t fuel at all or hydrate until the run – I will need to get some gels/cubes in me during the ride at Windsor

A final note, I am extremely grateful to Laura, Robyn and Ralph for coming to support me today. They took great pics and made me feel like a rock star at each transition. What a lucky guy I am to have you three in my corner!

Still had some energy for Thorpe Park with the family afterwards

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